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The Rot Within, Part III: Our Political Order Is Defined by Favoritism and Extortion

July 24, 2014

What's the difference between the U.S. Congress and corrupt petty officials taking bribes at a Third-World border crossing? Only one of scale.

Corruption ceases to be corruption when it becomes the Status Quo; what was once recognized as corruption is seen as just another cost of doing business. Our political order is structurally corrupt: the key dynamic in every level of governance is favoritism and extortion.

Favors must be bought: those foolish enough not to spend freely on lobbyists and campaign contributions find their competitors have gained the upper hand by buying favors such as tax breaks, federal subsidies, no-bid contracts, cost-plus contracts, backroom deals, regulations that exclude competition and so on.

Politicos must extort campaign contributions from the maximum number of supplicants seeking favors to maintain their perquisites and power.

Here's how the system works.

There was much mainstream media hand-wringing and outrage in response to corporations moving their place of business offshore to lower their taxes. This outrage is completely misplaced--and indeed, seems designed to misdirect attention away from the systemic corruption that is the beating heart of the American political order.

Let me explain how favoritism becomes the Status Quo. There are two key dynamics at work.

1. Onerous, uncompetitive taxes and/or regulations. The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35%, the highest in the world, and various observers estimate the average state corporate tax tacks on another 4.1% for a total corporate tax rate of 39.1%.

This is roughly three or four times the nominal and effective corporate tax rates in competing nations.

The heavier and more asymmetrical the burden, the greater the incentive to find a way to lighten the load. This is why nations with asymmetrical tax rates and collection practices are inevitably hotbeds of black market activity, as those few chumps who actually pay the official tax rate go out of business or struggle to make ends meet while their black market competitors are living high on the hog.

The injustice of such a system fuels the need and desire to buy favors to escape the burden that virtually nobody actually pays.

2. Once a significant percentage of participants have eased their burden by buying political favors, everyone else is forced to wonder why they should continue paying the high taxes when others are avoiding them.

This system is not accidental. The asymmetry feeds the need to buy political favors, and is thus a form of systemic extortion. If you refuse to pay the bribe at a Third-World border crossing, the Powers That Be will make sure your life becomes increasingly miserable; while those who ponied up the bribe breeze through the paperwork, you wait and wait and wait, and are told to fill out more paperwork.

In precisely the same fashion, those who refuse to bribe legislators and key political players find their tax rates are crushing and life is miserable indeed. This is known as pay to play, and it defines the U.S. political order.

Those who don't pay the extortion to congresspeople and lobbyists are punished by a system designed to force every participant to pony up the bribe or suffer the consequences.

In other words, U.S. corporate taxes are extortionist and unfairly applied by design, to guarantee every corporation has to buy favors from politicos intent on stripmining billions of dollars in pay to play "contributions."

I know many people feel corporations should pay high taxes because they did so in the 1950s, but this historical precedent is blind to the realities of a global economy. Given global sales and workforces, why should a company headquartered in the U.S. pay punishing U.S. tax rates on its global operations?

Is it good policy to burden our corporations with absurdly complex tax codes and rates so far above global norms that every U.S.-based company is forced to seek tax avoidance schemes just to remain competitive and meet shareholder demands to be as profitable as others in the same global space?

It's easy for pundits protected by academic tenure to criticize corporate management, but put yourself in the shoes of a pension fund that owns stock in a company that actually paid the full 35% while competitors used strategies bought by political favors to eliminate that burden: your dividends and capital gains would be significantly lower as a result of the corporation's refusal to use pay to play tax avoidance strategies.

The reality is the pension fund manager and the corporate managers would both be fired for underperformance if they were stupid enough to pay the full corporate tax rate or insist on the company doing so.

We have a double standard: as individuals, we seek every possible avenue to escape high Federal taxes, and the wealthier you are, the more avenues are open due to favors bought from an always willing to wheel-and-deal Congress.

Yet we publicly demand corporations pay absurdly asymmetric tax rates to qualify as "good corporate citizens."

Corporations don't exist to be good citizens. As noted above, anyone clueless enough to pay the 35% federal tax rate on all net earnings will have failed the shareholders, who naturally demand the same payout in dividends and capital gains as those earned by competitors who paid to play and avoided most or all U.S. taxes.

Systems of good governance make exceptions and favors difficult to gain and the process transparent.

Corrupt governance makes exceptions and favoritism the unspoken rule and the process of buying them hidden from public view. That defines the U.S. political order perfectly.

Soaring corporate profits make juicy targets for taxes:

Soaring profits are the engine of a rising stock market:

Wages have stagnated while profits have soared:

It's easy to see why people want to tax corporations heavily, but in thinking this they are playing right into the extortionist/pay to play political order.

A fairer, good-governance system would lower corporate tax rates to the equivalent of an excise tax and exclude favors and exemptions. A corporate tax rate of 5% that was applied to all corporate sales and earnings in the U.S. regardless of where the company was nominally based would raise more money than the current corrupt system in which many corporations pay almost nothing and chumps who failed to pay the required bribes pay a globally asymmetric rate as punishment for their failure to 'contribute" to the campaigns of incumbents.

A low, evenly applied corporate tax rate would destroy the pay to play system of extortion/bribery, and as a result it will never be adopted. The U.S. political order is systemically corrupt and is incapable of self-reform. The rot has seeped into every nook and cranny of the political order, to the point that it's now accepted as "the way we do business here."

What's the difference between the U.S. Congress and corrupt petty officials taking bribes at a Third-World border crossing? Only one of scale. The corrupt petty officials can only look with envy on the Congressional extortion machine.










Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy (Kindle, $9.95)(print, $17.76)
go to Kindle edition
Are you like me?
Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.

And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test-drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $17.76

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube)


HUGE GIANT BIG FAT DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site should be construed as investment advice or guidance. It is not intended as investment advice or guidance, nor is it offered as such.... (read more)

WHY EMAIL TO THIS SITE IS READ BUT MAY NOT BE ACKNOWLEDGED: Regrettably, I am so sorely pressed for time and energy that I am unable to respond to the vast majority of emails. Please know I read all emails, but I can only devote a very limited number of hours to this blog and all correspondence....



This Month's entries:

The Rot Within, Part III: Our Political Order Is Defined by Favoritism and Extortion
July 24, 2014

The Rot Within, Part II: Inflation Is Not "Growth"
July 23, 2014

The Rot Within, Part I: Our Ponzi Economy
July 22, 2014

The Insiders' Case for a Stock Market Mini-Crash
July 21, 2014

Degrowth Solutions: Half-Farmer, Half-X
July 19, 2014

The Coming Crash Is Simply the Normalization of a Mispriced Market
July 18, 2014

Finding Shelter from the Storm Part 2
July 17, 2014

Why America's Healthcare (Sickcare) System Is Broken and Unfixable
July 16, 2014

Why We're Doomed: Interest and Debt
July 15, 2014

You Want a Solution? Try Not to Get Hurt When It Collapses, Then Start Over
July 14, 2014

A Reader Asks: How to Find Shelter from the Coming Storms?
July 11, 2014

Neofeudalism's Tax Donkeys (Yes, You) and the Battle for Control of Resources
July 10, 2014

Why Housing Will Crash Again--But For Different Reasons Than Last Time
July 9, 2014

How Recession-Proof Is Your Job Sector?
July 8, 2014

What's Lurking Beneath the Glossy Veneer of the Jobs Report?
July 7, 2014

What's Cooking at Our House: Stir-Fried Prawns with Black Beans
July 5, 2014

(In)Dependence Day 2014: Freedom from Pain, or Freedom from Dysfunction?
July 4, 2014

Is This a Self-Sustaining Recovery or As Good As It Gets?
July 3, 2014

The Inevitable Stock Market Reversal: The New Normal Is Just Another Bubble Awaiting a Pop
July 2, 2014

The Next Global Meltdown Is Baked In: Connecting the Dots Between Oil, Debt, Interest Rates and Risk
July 1, 2014


June 2014 entries

May 2014 entries

April 2014 entries

March 2014 entries

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January 2014 entries


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Extra-Special Bonus Aphorisms:


"There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."
(Douglas MacArthur)

"We are what we repeatedly do." (Aristotle)

"Do the thing and you shall have the power." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." (E.F. Schumacher, via Tom R.)

"He who will not risk cannot win." (John Paul Jones)

"When we drink coffee, ideas march in like the army." (Honore de Balzac)

"Progress is not possible without deviation." (Frank Zappa, via Richard Metzger)

"Victory favors those who take pains." (amat victoria curam)

"The man who has a garden and a library has everything." (Cicero, via Lee Bentley)

"A healthy homecooked family meal and a home garden are revolutionary acts." CHS

"Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

"The way of the Tao is reversal" Or "Reversal is the movement of Tao." (Lao Tzu)

"Chance favours the prepared mind." (Louis Pasteur)

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasures." (Rumi)

"The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for." Joseph Addison (via Susan J.)

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, via Wayne H.)

"Passive absorption of marketing-dominated media is the primary activity on the plantation of the mind, and that of course is the goal of the colonial overlords: distraction, passivity, confusion, divide and conquer, and the old stand-by, financial desperation." (CHS)

"While we can always buy back into a trending market, we cannot go back in time and recover a profit lost to greed or complacency." (CHS)

"Whatever remains unconscious emerges later as fate." (Carl Jung)

"Any sufficiently advanced cartel's actions are indistinguishable from magic." (CHS)

"We have no leadership, just cronies and puppets." (CHS)

"The secret sauce in an investment isn't the upside, it's the viability between people who choose to share your dream in business or in life." (Eric P.)

"The ultimate goals of making money are balance and independence from money." (An Chu)

"Central planning perfects the power of threats to bypass the system's defenses." (CHS)

"Independence requires independence of thought, habit and action." (CHS)

"Certainty has another advantage: it's more persuasive than hedged hesitancy." (CHS)

"That which is cheap and abundant will be squandered until it is no longer cheap or abundant." (CHS) (3/5/2014)

"The prime directive of any bureaucracy is to eliminate all accountability." (CHS)

"In a world besotted with the artifice of consumerism, what matters is not what can be commodified and bought but what can't be commodified and bought." (CHS)

"The Mobile Creative credo: trust the network, not the corporation or the state." (CHS)

The Smith Market Uncertainty Principle: The more precisely we can determine the likelihood of a trend change, the less precisely we can determine the timing of the trend change--and vice versa. (June 20, 2014)

The Smith Uncertainty Principle: Every sustained action has more than one consequence. Some consequences will appear positive for a time before revealing their destructive nature. Some consequences will be intended, some will not. Some will be foreseeable, some will not. Some will be controllable, some will not. Those that are unforeseen and uncontrollable will trigger waves of other unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences. (July 8, 2014)

"The truth at any cost lowers all other costs." (Robert David Steele)

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    Richard Ha/Hamakua Springs

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    Yield Qwest: Overseas Business Emigration


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    My Big Island Girl
    (free song by CHS/CC)

    Alex and Daz Theme
    (2013, reggae/rock/jazz; lead guitar: 1st half CHS, 2nd half CC)

    My James Bond 2015 Theme
    (2013, CHS and CC, guitars)








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    My "definition" of success:

    1. Did I make myself useful today?
    2. Did I take care of myself today and avoid burdening anyone with my cares and troubles?
    3. Were I to meet the living Jesus or Buddha at day's end, would I feel ashamed of my conduct during the day, or could I meet his gaze with the inner knowledge that I emulated his teachings to the very best of my ability?


    live free
    live well
    live with integrity
    live with kindness
    be average but with self-discipline


    7 things to aspire to:

    austerity
    restraint
    humility
    responsibility
    patience
    sacrifice
    thrift

     

       
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